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Thursday, August 9, 2012

If You Can Find Joy On the NYC Subway, You Can Find It Anywhere

Photo props - the AMAZING Priya Patel Photography
I've been riding the New York City subway at least once a day, every day, for about six years now. And I'm getting somewhat nostalgic about subway rides (yes, really) since I'm gearing up to do a 6-month work stint at another company located about a 10-min walk from my home (i.e., no more subway rides).

Yes, the NYC subway smells nothing like roses. Yes, it's dirty and a lot of times there's garbage strewn throughout it. Yes, sometimes you get that crazy man who sits across from you and spews invective at you for the entire ride. And, yes, sometimes it's so crowded you find yourself getting much cozier than you'd like to be with a random and perfect stranger.

But there's also something magical about the NYC subway...

Where else can you find so many different people from so many different walks of life coming together each day to share a common experience? And there's always some form of entertainment during your ride. For example, you might hear someone give a great lecture about God, or Obama, or something else completely ridiculous, incomprehensible and incoherent but nonetheless amusing. If you're lucky, you might be serenaded by that amazing Mariachi band (I haven't seen them in years; wonder what happened to them). And, if you haven't already, check out Jessica Latshaw's subway ride performance that became an instant YouTube sensation.

My most memorable ride occurred during the first summer I lived in New York. I was pretty much a subway virgin. The subway car I was riding in was really crowded (oh, hello random middle-aged woman spooning me).

We pull up to the West 4th Street stop and even more people flood in. A young girl comes on, dressed in hot pink spandex pants and a really tight tank top, wearing headphones and a disc-man (remember those?) tucked into her tank top right over her left breast. She stands in the very middle of the car and jostles around to clear some space for herself. This takes a bit of effort, but she's on a mission. After she’s cleared the space she needs, she turns up the volume on her discman, lets loose and starts dancing. And I mean, squatting deeply, breathing heavingly, hips gyrating, arms flailing, far from graceful, but really heartfelt dancing. Everyone stared. Some people laughed.

In my mind, this was a liberated soul. Yes, it was obviously an attention-seeking stunt - at first. But it didn't take long until she began to lose herself in the movement (however awkward and scary-looking that movement might have been). Soon, she was completely oblivious of everyone around her. You could almost see that outer layer of bravado just melting away. She was dancing just for the sake of dancing and nothing else mattered. She wasn’t embarrassed or proud or nervous or afraid or even conscious of anything else.

This is exactly what we try to do in yoga class, isn't it? Disengaging from the mind, focusing on the breath and the movement of the body. I experience fleeting moments of liberation during my yoga practice where I truly lose myself in the flow. No pride, no fear, no ego, no pretense. Of course, those moments don’t last very long and the next thing I know, I am worrying about what the teacher thinks of my alignment, what posture comes next in the sequence or what I'm going to eat for dinner. But those flashes of liberation - oh my, they are so heavenly.

Maybe if I practice yoga long enough, one day I will be able to get up and dance on the subway during my morning commute, without a care in the world. Or... most likely not...

oxox roxy